How VIBCO Achieved Lean



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VIBCO Vibrators, founded in 1962, manufactures and markets a comprehensive range of industrial and construction vibrators. VIBCO also designs, manufactures and markets a complete line of vibratory plate compactors and rollers.

VIBCO is committed to quality, innovation and producing a complete product portfolio that is 100 percent made in the USA. The company produces 1,300 different products and 6,800 component pieces with fast order turnaround due to its achievement of lean manufacturing and continuous manufacturing improvement. VIBCO operates with the mantra, “Same day. Next day,” which means making the product from start to finish in 24 hours and in 48 hours, it’s out to the customer.

“Our journey to lean manufacturing started with our machine shop. It was our bottleneck, but also our pacemaker,” explains Karl Wadensten, president of VIBCO Vibrators. “We wanted to be lean as well as have predictability, high quality and confidence. To do that, we needed to move out of the ‘more is better,’ batch-and-queue mindset and figure out how to make one thing in a highly efficient way, with single-piece flow in a quantity of one.”

To identify areas for improvement, VIBCO started recording the production processes in its shop of 16 machines. The VIBCO team sat down and dissected hundreds of hours of video identifying ways to set up, standardize and overcome challenges to having more variety in production. One of the largest changes that VIBCO made to achieve lean manufacturing was to produce smaller batches using SMED. SMED is a methodology developed by Toyota for quick change-over and stands for: single-minute exchange of die.

“Smaller batches along the entire value stream allow for better planning and scheduling as well as being able to have shorter turnaround time,” Mr. Wadensten continues. “In just a few years, we went from completing 40 or 50 set ups for jobs to completing 400 to 500 set ups for jobs in the same 21- to 22-day cycle, which is a true game changer.”

VIBCO started its journey toward lean manufacturing by incorporating SMED into manufacturing. Eventually, the entire way of thinking at VIBCO changed.

“SMED was effective in working toward our goals, but the mentality in the shop is no longer SMED,” Mr. Wadensten says. “The question is now, ‘how do we produce this without any set up?’ We got out of our own way and away from being held hostage by the set up and traditional manufacturing processes. We also set the target for future conditions very high, so high that most would think it’s unattainable. That is true lean!

“Thinking about things differently and taking the lessons that we learned about our own manufacturing and applying them to each step in the process are a major part of success toward achieving lean manufacturing,” Mr. Wadensten continues. “When it all boils down, what we did was process improvement, collaborating, seeing the same vision and having a true battle cry.”

Mr. Wadensten recommends starting the journey toward achieving lean manufacturing by grasping the shop’s situation, observing the current processes and listening to the team on the shop floor.
“Go out, look and listen. You can’t lead from your office. Your team can tell you what’s getting in their way and the challenges that they face. Ask them, ‘what’s bugging you?’ Supporting your own people so that they can excel at their jobs will increase efficiency,” Mr. Wadensten says. “Listen to what they say and act on it to break down the barriers.

“Also, listen to your customers. What do they want? When do they want it? Customers don’t want the excuses that seem to be the flavor of today,” Mr. Wadensten continues. “Be different. Provide a product or service, not a story.”

The lean processes that VIBCO incorporates and continues to improve, cleared bottlenecks and set a quicker pace so they can offer quality products that are ready to ship exactly when they are needed and in the right quantities. 

Precision Machined Products Association


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